Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| January 10, 2005
For even the most successful of collegiate stars, the NBA can at times be a humbling game. It's been no different for Sonics forward Nick Collison
, named an AP First-Team All-American and Big 12 Conference Player of the Year as a senior at Kansas, as he has made his transition to the NBA this season.
After sitting out all of 2003-04 after undergoing surgery on both of his shoulders, Collison has had to battle not only the typical adjustment to the NBA, but also regaining confidence in his shoulders when he faces the typical contact that marks the NBA post. On top of that, he's been bothered by a deep bone bruise in his right knee. Still, as his rookie season nears the halfway point, it's clear Collison is making the necessary adjustments.
After struggling early in the season, Collison is shooting better than 50% since the start of December.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty
"Yeah, I figured there would be a transition," Collison said after the Sonics practiced Monday. "It's a totally different game."
In addition to watching the NBA game up close from his courtside seat while spending last season on the injured list, Collison also heard about the transition from a pair of point guards with different perspectives - Kirk Hinrich, his teammate at Kansas who quickly became a starter for the Chicago Bulls and ended up on the got milk? All-Rookie First Team; and Luke Ridnour, his Sonics teammate who had an up-and-down rookie year because he saw inconsistent playing time behind veterans Brent Barry and Antonio Daniels.
Since Collison is in a similar position to Ridnour this season, splitting minutes with big men Reggie Evans and Danny Fortson, both of whom have played well, Ridnour's advice has been particularly helpful.
"Luke talked a lot about it, especially when you're not playing very much," said Collison. "In college, it's okay if you miss five shots. Here, you might only get five shots."
Collison began training camp as part of a three-way battle for the starting spot at power forward with Evans and Fortson, but Evans laid claim to the spot with an impressive preseason and Fortson also played well, assuring himself of regular minutes. With Vladimir Radmanovic also seeing action at the four when the Sonics go small, that left Collison's minutes limited and mostly at center.
Without the ability to play through his mistakes, Collison struggled during the month of November. While his rebounding - 3.6 boards in just 12 minutes of action - was solid, Collison shot just 40.4% from the field - unfamiliar territory for a player who shot 56.2% during his college career.
Slowly but surely, however, the Collison the Sonics expected when they selected him with the 12th pick of the 2003 Draft has emerged. During December, Collison boosted his field-goal percentage to 51.1%. With Sonics Coach Nate McMillan gaining confidence in his rookie, Collison averaged 7.4 points and 7.2 rebounds over the final five games of December.
"He's telling me he doesn't hesitate to put me in," said Collison about McMillan's confidence. "He's not worried about rookie mistakes."
At the same time, Collison's own confidence has grown dramatically.
"I'm nowhere near as confident as I was in college, but I've gained more confidence," he said.
Collison has ever survived the most difficult challenge an NBA rookie can face, going one-on-one against Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal twice in the past week. Nine fouls in 23 minutes aside, Collison emerged unscathed and even found time to burn the Heat for six points (on 3-for-3 shooting) and six rebounds in just 17 minutes of action in the Sonics 108-98 victory Sunday at KeyArena. With Collison on the floor, the Sonics outscored the Heat by 10 points.
"He definitely brings a different element to the game," Collison commented on defending O'Neal. "You can't really front him because he's so big, they'll just lob it over the top."
The past week also saw Collison earn his first pair of starting assignments with Evans sidelined by Gastroenteritis. He had seven points and five rebounds in his first start at Orlando, going up against the top pick of this year's Draft, Orlando forward Dwight Howard. McMillan returned Collison to the bench for the rematch with the Heat, commenting that he thought Collison had played differently as a starter, but Collison believes he's up to the challenge of starting should he have the opportunity again this season.
"Doesn't matter when I go in the game, I'm ready to play," he said.
Several Seattle big men sat out today's practice including Evans, who is still recovering from Sunday's relapse of Gastroenteritis. Fortson missed today's practice with a sore toe, Radmanovic did not practice because of a mild quad strain and rookie center Robert Swift was sent home after feeling nauseous. That all left Collison, Jerome James and Vitaly Potapenko as the only Sonics post players practicing.
No new information was available on the status of Evans for Tuesday's game with the Los Angeles Clippers at KeyArena (7:00 p.m., FSN, TICKETS). The other players (besides Swift, who is on the injured list) are expected to play.
The Sonics will be looking to even the season series with the Clippers after suffering a lopsided 114-84 loss on Opening Night that Ray Allen, half-joking, said he didn't have any memories of. While the results of that game have ended up saying nothing about the Sonics, who won their next nine games, Allen still thinks the rematch is important from a psychological standpoint.
"We have to prove to ourselves a team that we aren't as bad as we were that night," Allen said.